Civilian commission looks into alleged officer misconduct

By Jane McClure

Relations between the police and the public are drawing increased scrutiny around the United States, yet many Saint Paul residents do not know anything about the city’s Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission (PCIARC) and how it works to address concerns about law enforcement. That was the key message for Saint Paul City Council members during an August 5 update on the commission and its activities.

Getting the word out about the commission and its work has a cost, but finding funds to cover those costs could be difficult as Saint Paul faces a challenging budget year in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The nine-member commission, which reviews claims of police misconduct, operates under the city’s Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity. HREEO director Valerie Jensen would like to increase the commission’s annual budget, which is currently $16,775, not including staff costs.

Commissioners currently receive $50 per month, which has not increased since the commission was formed in 1993. Jensen said she would like to increase the commission stipends in 2021.

“There are serious issues with that (compensation),” Jensen said. She spoke on the need for greater socioeconomic and ethnic diversity on the commission, but said that is difficult to achieve when there are financial barriers to participation.

PCIARC is one of the city’s most time-intensive citizen groups. Commissioners undergo 40-50 hours of training before joining and spend about 15-20 hours each month reviewing cases before monthly meetings, according to PCIARC coordinator Julian Roby.

City Council members agreed that compensation needs to be increased, though by how much was not discussed. “It’s like a part-time job,” said council member Jane Prince.

City Council members agreed that compensation needs to be increased, though by how much was not discussed. “It’s like a part-time job,” said council member Jane Prince.

Another issue is geographic representation. The commission has two openings after one member recently moved out of the city and a second chose not to seek another term. Of the seven members, four live in Ward 4. Council members and city staff agreed that they would like to see members from across the city.

Roby also would like to see more funding to make people aware that the commission exists and how it can be a resource for them.

After the PCIARC reviews evidence about alleged police misconduct, it makes recommendations to the police chief about potential discipline. The PCIARC has seen a steady increase in cases in recent years. Roby said the PCIARC reviewed 44 cases involving 72 officers and 88 allegations in 2019.

The majority of allegations against police officers in recent years have been for improper procedures. Other complaints have included use of excessive force, discrimination, improper conduct, inappropriate use of firearms and poor public relations.

Last year, 24 percent of complaints against officers were upheld. Of those, 38 percent of the officers were terminated and 29 percent received an oral reprimand. The others received written reprimands, suspensions and supervisory counseling or retraining.

The commission had hoped to release its full 2019 annual report during a public event this past spring, Roby said, but that was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No new date for the release of that data has been announced.

The pandemic has also meant postponing other activities, including an annual summit, a youth roundtable and a separate summit for people whose first language is not English. Those activities are to be funded through a grant by the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.

The purpose of those events is to make the public more aware of the work of the PCIARC and how to file complaints if the need arises.

The PCIARC has been through many iterations over the years, including the removal of police from serving on the commission in 2016. That decision followed an audit by the University of Minnesota Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. Management of the commission also was shifted from the Police Department to the HREEO.

In 2018 the City Council approved a $250,000 financial settlement with outgoing HREEO director Jessica Kingston. In interviews, Kingston said she had repeatedly raised concerns that the Police Department was blocking investigations of misconduct. Police officials denied those allegations.

COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE

The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.